Automated Speeding Enforcement Constitutional, Says Iowa Supreme Court

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A long and detailed decision, in Behm v. City of Cedar Rapids (Iowa Jan. 25, 2019), rejecting various substantive due process, equal protection, nondelegation, and preemption claims.

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  1. So, no right to speedy and public trial when the machine says “Pay up!”?

  2. Cedar Rapids is thinking too small. As long as this is perfectly consistent with the court’s Non-Delegation Doctrine, why not expend this, where possible (and I think with some imagination other applications can be found) to other areas of law enforcement?

  3. I don’t have an issue with enforcing traffic laws using some kind of automated system. However, you still need some due process way to adjudicate it.

    1. The main problem with automated speeding enforcement, is that the speed limits have been set irrationally low in order to create the opportunity for selective enforcement of speed limits when revenue is needed, or somebody not traveling terribly over the limit is doing something problematic.

      Institute automated enforcement, and suddenly the irrational limits are being 100% enforced. It’s like a government enforced rolling blockade. Speed limits that were only tolerable because they weren’t being enforced suddenly come crashing down on everybody.

      1. The speed limits appropriate for vehicles manufactured in the 1970s are inappropriate for at least some current vehicles, particularly with respect to highways. My first vehicle strained at 50, shuddered at 60, and strove to tear itself apart at 70. My current vehicle is smooth at 90 and higher.

        1. They’re not just inappropriate for the vehicles, they’re often inappropriate for the road construction, too, such as the angles the curves are banked at. Civil engineers are given remarkably little input into these decisions; They can tell the pols what the safe speed limit for the road would be, (Generally, an 85th percentile zone around the speed people decide to drive on the road, because most people drive at a safe speed while ignoring posted limits.) but then political considerations can dictate what the legal speed limit will be set at.

          Personally, I’ve driven on the autoban, and my “need for speed” runs out far short of what modern cars can be safely driven at.

  4. I haven’t read the decision but it always seemed to me the biggest problem was determining the responsible party any vehicle may have been driven by any number of people, unless the device could identify the driver.

    1. Write the laws to assign violations to the vehicle owner. Indeed, as we move into the driverless vehicle era, assignment of responsibility needs to be made clear anyway.

      Timeliness of notice of infraction can be near instantaneous. Accomplish this by allowing vehicle owners to register an e-mail or text message contact to their registered vehicle. Phone could then ping instantly, allowing the owner to know that they screwed up, or whoever they lent the vehicle to screwed up.

      1. That’s how they’re written. Still a due process violation.

        “Pay a fine, vehicle owner, or rat out the person who did the deed under penalty of perjury.”

        What if I do not recall? What if it is possible that there are several people who could have been using the vehicle at that time? Am I supposed to name someone and perjure myself because I am being threatened with a fine? Under that circumstance, how is it not the state suborning perjury?

        Since when was it the responsibility of the property owner to investigate crimes on behalf of the prosecution?

        The only way I can think to enforce these is to make then “in rem,” and to lay a lien against the vehicle in question. Unless they do that, all of these automated enforcement mechanisms are based on “guilty until proven innocent.”

    2. That’s a good objection. Apparently, plaintiffs had argued that the ordinance improperly relied upon a rebuttable presumption that the vehicle owner was responsible for the infraction, but because the district court did not rule on this, it was deemed to be waived on appeal.

    3. rsteinmetz: How is this different from parking tickets? (Note that, for whatever it’s worth, the enforcement ordinance appears to provide for what state law views as civil infractions, not criminal prosecutions.)

      1. The separation between “moving” violations and “parking” violations?

        Governments wanted to avoid drivers from demanding jury trials on parking tickets, so they created parking violations. They just wanted their revenue and didn’t want to mess with Due Process rights.

        Then tolls came along and they didn’t want to mess with pesky jury trials either.

        In Georgia, you can demand a jury trial for any violation of law since they only have misdemeanors and felonies, no infractions. The courts hate it when people demand jury trials for speeding tickets and the state has to actually prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

        If governments would charge only a few dollars for violations of these tolls or parking, people would simply pay. Americans are fighting the state because these are money making schemes by government to shake money from upside down American’s pockets.

        1. “If governments would charge only a few dollars for violations of these tolls or parking, people would simply pay.”

          IOW, a fine of only a few dollars wouldn’t do anything to discourage people from breaking the law and a higher fine is necessary as deterrent?

      2. If viewed as civil, doesn’t there need to be damages for a tort to be established?

        Duty + Breach of Duty + Damages + Proximate Cause = Tort. How can the municipality claim it has the latter two?

        1. Demosthenes of Athens: No; civil infractions are civil enforcement, but they aren’t tort law — they don’t require the government to show damages.

  5. The judiciary is a branch of government. A branch of government can never be trusted to rein in the power of government.

  6. With apologies to Ilhan Omar, “It’s all about the Benjamins”.

  7. Those justices won’t be so happy when appellate decisions are reached by a computer algorithm.

  8. Like all good Reason commenters, I don’t have time for long decisions; so does the decision explain how to cross examine a computer accusing you of a crime?

    1. Captain Kirk might have a few pointers about the general subject of cross-examining computers. And the title character in at least one episode of The Prisoner managed it.

  9. My concern is the assumption that machines are infallible. Yes, humans are too. But you can cross-examine a police officer.
    That said, we had the opposite result a while back in NC. We had stop light cameras but no more. I did enjoy a story – perhaps fictional – of a guy who got the ticket in the mail ( cannot recall if photo was included), and responded by sending picture of cash needed to satisfy the fine. Supposedly he in turn got a photo sent back to him of a pair of handcuffs.

  10. Shorter Title: Another Court Fails to Do Its Job

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